Some of us had to crawl on our hands and knees for years just to say those blessed words out loud. You arrive at them carried mysteriously by a heart that won’t give up, though it’s been strangled by fear and slashed again and again by sheer exhaustion. Or at least, that was me. I almost couldn’t believe I was finally saying “enough is enough.” And meaning it.
I wish it were different but the truth is that my recovery is breaking my bones all the way to dust right now. It is very crushing. It is very nerve wracking. It is very real. It is very deep. And to live through an honest recovery, a deeply holy and authentic recovery, the only guide you actually have – when the noise quiets, when the chips are down, when the dust settles – is yourself.
Perhaps I had been afraid to get sober for so long because something in me has known all along that getting to the truth would mean, ultimately, getting to me. Who I really am. What I really believe. What I am really made of. What my truest desires, wants, and dreams, as well as fears, are.
But it isn’t just the getting to my core that will make my life authentic, aligned, sincere, integrated. It’s arriving at my center, seeing it for what it really is, and then choosing it over every single other thing in my life. Over money. Over family. Over attention. Over outward validation. Over career. Over fitting in. Over marriage. Over societal norms. Over conventional thinking. Over the easy way. Over my reputation. Over the image and expectations of me that others hold.
And given all this, now I see and feel and know in no uncertain terms one thing: a true recovery is as radical a path as can ever be chosen by a humble human creature who dares to believe there is so much more to the story than has yet been revealed.
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All of my thoughts rush forward in my mind like they are trying to get my attention by speaking over one another. This sensation has become a recurring thing. At first it is upsetting because, as a writer, my immediate instinct is to try to get them all down on paper but the thing is, I guess, right now, I just can’t.
I can only write when I can hold one thought at a time, hold each up and inspect it, turn it, observe, record. It needs to be at least somewhat quiet enough for me to think straight enough to get through the tangle of thought-voices and pluck one. And so this mania of thoughts could really scare me if I let it. This mangle of loud thoughts all at once. But I have to trust that if I let it all be, eventually all of it will sort itself out and I will write what needs to get written and leaving the rest will be okay.
I think about my first session with my new Alcohol & Drug Addiction Counselor which I attended last evening. Please let me tell you that writing that sentence feels as surreal and bizarre to me as sipping my morning coffee whilst watching an elephant peddle merrily down my street on a unicycle and yet I am trying to be cool about it like this was all meant to be my life but I don’t think that’s true, honestly.
It was not ‘always meant to be’ in fact it was never meant to be if you asked me a few months ago. A few months ago, I could not even use the words alcohol or sober or recovery or addiction or any of the rest of it. Part of my drinking-self-survival was to pretend all of that did not exist because for me it didn’t. It couldn’t. If it did I might need to deal with it and fuck knows I was in no condition to have to do that.
I tell my counselor man about the flood of thoughts I keep experiencing all the time, to which he responds by nodding encouragingly and calling them ‘racing thoughts’ which I let him get away with it but it isn’t right. They aren’t ‘racing’ like some kind of strongman contest with each other, they are rather like adorable but hyperactive gremlins all cramming into the same doorway at once trying desperately to burst out of the tightness of my mind and onto the freedom of my page.
They want to say what they have been dying to say and finally, mercifully be heard. Each one believes earnestly in itself and trusts me to understand. And I feel very strongly that I owe them that. That I am here to make sure these creatures get a stage. A moment in the spotlight or sunlight or whatever you may say.
I tell my counselor about my darkest times. I choke on tears for the better part of an hour as he sits quietly and patiently and attentively and calmly, like he may even have expected this, all of this, to unfold exactly the way it is. I, on the other hand, feel like a wild animal that can only express what its truest nature is and cannot think beyond that very basic primal premise. A creature which can only be what it is and do what it has to do. Drain itself of the poison it has known was inside for decades but was afraid it would kill off the whole entire earth if she let it out. The poisonous thorny wretchedness that she believed sincerely she had to hold in because better she be killed off quietly like a good little beast instead of cause any more trouble for a single blade of surrounding grass.
What on earth was my self-worth before I got sober? What on earth made me so goddamn afraid all the time? Afraid to not drink and afraid of what the drinking was doing to me. Afraid, afraid all the time, either way. I ask the counselor man if I am an alcoholic. I ask him this right off the jump at the start of our session. I want answers.
But he is wily and wise and diverts the question. Some kind of magic therapeutic hat trick takes place and I find myself telling him about the extremely dangerous nature of my multiple blackouts. He raises both of his therapy knowing man eyebrows and repeats back to me so I can hear it from the outside looking in: Oh, so you had blackouts... I emphasize to him like I am sort of proud but sort of not that I am able to verbalize this: Yes, yes, many many blackouts.
He tells me when we speak about a drinking problem what we are speaking about is a loss of control. That’s all it is really about when you get right down to it, beyond the labels, beyond the stigmas and diagnoses. Are you or are you not in control of this thing that is holding your life at knifepoint.
He asks me if I think that blackouts are something ‘normal’ people experience on the regular. I am stupefied by this question. Because it is so stark, so blatantly naked I don’t expect it, and because the answer comes to me not smoothly, but rather like a crooked person in a faded unbuttoned trenchcoat stumbling down the sidewalk who arrives to me ragged, bewildered, and out of breath.
No? No. No, I guess I don’t think that blackouts are a normal occurrence for normal people. But I just never thought about that. I suppose I was too busy getting myself into or out of one. And then that makes me not normal, not the same. Not a regular drinker but also not a regular human. There is something very wrong about me. See, I knew it. I knew I wasn’t right. That I didn’t fit ever and still do not.
All my life I have felt outside, strange. Not ‘unfit’ exactly but ‘ill-fitting.’ I didn’t quite fit into this life and it didn’t quite fit around me. Sometimes I found that thoroughly and utterly depressing and unfair. Other times, in my art and my writing and my secret inside world, I reveled in it and rejoiced for it. I found it to be my favorite thing about myself, hands down. It was the thing I wouldn’t let anyone touch or take away from me. That uniqueness. I wanted to show it in a way that I didn’t lose it, in a way that would make it multiply and never leave.
All of the poetry I ever wrote was in defense of my otherness.
My weirdness was my wild. My grotesqueness, my beauty.
It occurs to me that never before in my whole life have I ever told anyone at all about my addiction or the very scary places it took me. Never even so much as alluded to it. Never even came close to dealing with it as a serious problem. If I ever had inklings, I would stomp them out as fast as they flickered up. What I didn’t realize was that stomping out a flicker, no matter how fast I could manage to do it, couldn’t make the flickers non-existent to begin with. That even if they only got one split second of oxygen, they could still burn a discernible cigarette-sized hole through my grim facade.
And all the while as I fucked around playing games with myself, none of my drinking was normal even when it appeared as such. To others or to me. This new revelation feels like melting. Like snow off a pine-covered hill or ice cream on a blazing hot sidewalk in the middle of a blistering summer afternoon. Like the springtime coming and not being able to stop it. Like the sticky unfortunate end of a decapitated treat that was charmingly doomed from the start.
As I blow my nose rather unceremoniously, I realize I have dumped all the stories I could think of onto the head of this properly formally credentialed stranger because I just needed it to come out. I cannot stop crying and I cannot stop apologizing for crying. He says he understands it is very hard for me to talk about these things. He is correct but far too mellow about it all. It is hard for me to talk about my alcoholism the way I imagine it is hard to be in a hospital gown in a hospital bed right before they wheel you into the OR to give one of your organs away to someone you have never met. You know it is a good and benevolent thing to do, that a life can be saved, and in the hands of an expert surgeon, it can be done. But it still feels insane and frightening and like there’s a chance you will go through it all and it still might go horribly morbidly wrong.
All this to say that trying to weave my way through recovery is newly complex and odd for me right now. Having my own ‘addiction counselor’ feels like it is a miracle or whatever they tell you about miracles, you know what I mean. They seem ridiculously impossible and also obviously true at the same time. I can’t even believe I am doing this. It is like I am me but I am also doing things to save myself that feel vastly bigger and braver than actual me is capable of carrying out.
Right before we end the session, counselor man, who is himself a recovering drug addict, asks me where I’m at ‘spiritually.’ He wants to know if I am willing to entertain the idea of an otherworldly-world and without him having to say it directly, I surmise he wants to discern if I am open to accepting the ‘help’ of a ‘higher power,’ a term which grates on my last helplessly exposed recovering nerve for reasons I will surely expand on in good time.
In the moment though, trying to appear dutiful and resolved in front of the very kind guy who just let me blurt out all over him rivers and rivers of hurt and pain and silent sickness for the first time in my messy unrelenting life, I write down the word ‘God’ in my notebook. As I do so, a heavy wave of deep and thorough and swollen exhaustion presses all the way from the top of my head to the tips of my toes.
With my naked eye I saw you in the naked light. Beautiful, complicated, sinister, trembling. Creature of nocturnal nature. Proximity is not a true measurement and by that I mean it is very difficult, if not entirely impossible, to see a thing so precious up so close. Reach for me. Stretch. Struggle for me. Can you feel this intrusion thickening, growing inside of you where you open like fruit, in your limbs like vines dripping with the honeyed liquid of many thousand sapphire suns, silvering moons. You have to be able to understand the mood, baby, sense the melody, the messages in the vibrations. She tells me how she spits in his mouth. He needs it. Begs and begs for it. Gets off on the degradation. Now try not to think about that. Try not to feel it in your core, throbbing like the most decadent hatred. There is something inside that wants to feel the terrible cruelty we think we deserve. Please do not say these things, write these things, want these things, spread these things like disease. Like you are diseased. I like to pull the pieces apart from the others, watch it all disintegrate around you like you aren’t even there. Like you never were. Like we never were. Sunshine is blistering along the grass on top of the sea water as no words are exchanged, no emotion, no currency, no transaction, no rushing current flowing along the trickling side of the steepest hill. Had you had expectations. Had you had demands, had you said things you wish you could take back, no. He presses into me where my sap runs deepest, most fragrant, heated, milky. You have to feel the vibrations, you sweet stupid thing. You can’t let go you have to feel it all. His hand is the hand which moves through everything that ever existed or ever will, his hands are the hands which absolve you, break you, tear you until you learn to take it, make you come so hard your tears stain the pillows, his hands all over you, his hands refuse to touch you, his hands offer and withhold and you spread out so thin you become the atmosphere itself, a bare little wing, little pulsar brimming with revolution. The sweat and blood of evolution. And you turn and we turn and we turn into drops of water suspended in the atmosphere which is only the way we are forever our delicate selves, turning and turning and returning. You just have to trust me. You just have to place it to your lips and taste it. You just have to be able to understand the mood is the mood. I cannot explain it.